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To Close Or Not To Close: A Note From Superintendent Young

January 2014

Dear CPS Families and Staff,

Whenever it snows, I make many new friends and enemies. People always have opinions on whether school should remain open during times of inclement weather, and quite a few members of our community freely share their thoughts on this subject with me. Let me explain how the decision around snow days gets made.

As soon as the meteorologists begin dominating the television news, my staff and I monitor the forecasts closely, utilizing not only the popular media reports but also the local, private forecasts the City receives from its consultants. With New England weather being as changeable as we all know it is, the snow day decision involves as much art as science. There is no specific tipping point--that is, it's not as if we wait for X inches of snow and say, "That's it, we're closed." Rather, we weigh and balance a variety of (often competing) interests in trying to make the wisest decision. Those variables include the following, in no particular order:

  • ensuring the safety of students and staff in getting to and from school
  • expanding our understanding of the concept of "safety" beyond the obvious analysis of road conditions to consideration of those families who do not have the flexibility to take a day off from work to care for their children
  • appreciating that in most cases, school is the safest place for children to be during the day, and that we want to minimize the number of children who would be left home alone
  • recognizing that the City of Cambridge has an exceptional team of professionals who do their absolute best to allow safe passage of vehicles and pedestrians
  • being mindful of the school calendar and trying to conserve snow days for the long winter

When the weather forecast is ominous, we consult with City officials and neighboring superintendents in order to determine the likelihood of safe passage not only within the city limits but on a regional basis as well. We do our best to make the decision as early as possible (i.e, the night before), but sometimes weather conditions are so uncertain that we need to wait until early morning to make the call. As I sit in my office today, knowing that Cambridge is among a relatively small number of local school districts where school is in session, I realize that there are some people who are pleased that we were not intimidated by the forecast and other people who are enraged that we did not pay attention to the forecast.

In the specific case of January 2, 2014, the hour-by-hour forecast on WCVB television called for a total accumulation of 3.6 inches of snow by 4PM this afternoon. Most of the heavy snow is expected for later this evening. In consideration of the above variables, I made the judgment that we are hearty enough to deal with 3.6 inches of snow.

People often ask ask about the option of delayed openings or early dismissals. Because of the varying needs of Cambridge families as well as our transportation system, we have determined that these options are not viable. We cannot be in a situation where families who need to get to work early in the morning drop children off at school before school staff are present in the building as a result of a delayed opening. At the other end of the day, we do not feel confident about sending children home early to empty households.

Two things are very important for families: (1) please make arrangements to care for your children in the event that school is cancelled on any day, and (2) please know that if you believe that it is unsafe for your child to travel to or from school on a day that class is in session, you may keep your child at home with no penalty.

There is nothing pretty about making the snow day decision. Most superintendents will say it is the most agonizing part of the job, as no matter what the decision is, half the people are happy and half are not. We do the best we can with the information we have and never claim to be right all the time. We appreciate your understanding and support and hope you will help your children learn that things don't always go exactly as planned, and sometimes we have to make the best of a difficult situation.

Thank you for your patience in these winter months.

JY

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